Manganaro’s, a feature of 9th Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen since 1893, has closed. For the first time in over 100 years, the block between W37th and W38th Street will not display the Manganaro family name.
Manganaro’s was renowned for its six-foot long hero sandwich, and historically had a reputation to rival Balducci’s, Zabar’s and Dean & Deluca. It was acclaimed by the New York Times in 1963 as “one of New York’s most impressive halls of gastronomy.”
In 1920, Neapolitan immigrant James Manganaro took over the deli at 488 Ninth Avenue from his uncle, Ernest Petrucci, who opened his store in 1893. In its place, he created the classic New York eatery, Manganaro Grosseria Italiana. Then in 1956, with business booming, the family bought the vacant store next door, to create the Heroboy sandwich shop.
That sandwich store is now shuttered. Nick Accardi, owner of Tavola, the Italian restaurant next door (and site of the original Grosseria) said that COVID-19 is likely to blame. “This was a business that saw two World Wars, the AIDS epidemic, 9/11, prohibition,” he says, “but what we just went through was one of the most difficult experiences ever.“
The original Grosseria closed in 2011 after a thirty-year family feud that W42ST food writer Michael Muñoz described as “more family drama than the entire run of Days of Our Lives.” The bitter dispute started when one brother was given the deli, and the other the neighboring sandwich shop. Which one was responsible for the hero? Which one had the rights to the family name? The question was answered over a series of lengthy legal battles played out in the pages of the New York press, bringing headlines such as “A Family, a Feud and a Six-Foot Sandwich.”
Seline Dell’Orto, the last generation of the family to own the Grosseria before closing, wrote in The Manganaro Italian Family Cookbook: “I remember growing up around the store and getting in everyone’s way. I loved the smell of the fresh imported cheeses and sausages. I would watch my father for hours as he sliced meat paper-thin and made sandwiches for hungry customers. It wasn’t until I was 16 or 17 that I began working in the store. Like everyone else who starts at Manganaro’s, I was assigned first to the kitchen, making sandwiches and salads. Soon I graduated to hot foods and then got to work the counters. It was the training I needed to run the business I do today.”
With the deli gone, for the past 10 years it’s been left to the six-foot sandwich to be the hero of 9th Avenue. The size of the sandwich was always ideal for catering. Even at the height of the pandemic — with the 244 seat dining room closed — the shop was kept busy delivering to frontline workers. Wilson Rivas led a team making hundreds of meals for essential hospital and transportation staff throughout the city.
USA Today reported in 1983: “New York’s hero sandwich got its name in the 1930s from Clementine Paddieford, food writer for the now defunct New York Herald Tribune. She said of the sandwiches made at Manganaro’s that “you had to be a hero to finish one.” Back then, clients for his 6ft sandwiches — serving 40 people and weighing 22 pounds — included Senator Jacob Javits (who now has a whole conference center named after him a couple of blocks away). It’s appropriate that the final year of the business saw them being heroes in the times of COVID-19.
The hero was not the only “food first” for Manganaro’s. Back in 1944, as war raged in Europe, the New York Times talked about “an Italian paste which, though not new, is relatively little known.” They said that it “may be found at most Italian grocery stores, and specifically at Manganaro’s, 488 Ninth Avenue, where it sells for 28 cents.” The paste was PESTO — and this was its first culinary mention in America (although it didn’t really find a place in the US kitchen until the 80s and 90s).
“Years ago my parents used to travel with the Baldaccis of the Baldacci’s Specialty Food Market. It was in the years when we, Baldacci’s, Zabar’s and Dean & Deluca used to have a friendly competition to see who could carry things first,” Seline recalled to the historian, Justin Watrel.
It’s hoped that the rich, international food history of 9th Avenue can be preserved. Even with the loss of businesses like Empire Coffee & Tea after 112 years — there are still names like the 90-year-old Esposito Meat Market, International Grocery, Sea Breeze Fish Market and Longo Bros around. Now locals want a part of Hell’s Kitchen lodged in the National Register of Historic Places as Paddy’s Market. The proposed historic district runs from W35th to W40th Street on both sides of Ninth Avenue.
Joe Restuccia, Executive Director of Clinton Housing Development Company, is leading the initiative to bring back Paddy’s Market. “We can create an identity for this area that will encourage economic development and tourism, as well as helping the recovery of retail businesses impacted by COVID-19,” he said. The project has support from Manhattan Community Board 4 and the Hudson Yards Hell’s Kitchen Alliance.
Some elements of Manganaro’s live on. Nick Accardi kept the original sign, shelves, doors, and ceilings of the Grosseria when he created Tavola. Nick feels he is still connected to the family. “They were such a presence, I could really feel the ghosts here,” he says “The family also lived in the building. There were three generations of Manganaros that were born here, died here, were married here, they laughed, they cried here. Their energy is seeping through the walls.”